Top Democrats and Republicans announced late Tuesday that they had reached an early “framework” to fund the government through most of 2023, clinching an important first milestone in the race to stave off a looming shutdown.
To start, House lawmakers are expected to vote as soon as Wednesday on a temporary funding measure that would fund federal agencies and operations through Dec. 23. That would replace the existing stopgap, which expires at the end of this Friday, Dec. 16, a deadline by which Congress must act or critical government operations are set to come to a halt.
The week-long temporary measure, known as a continuing resolution, also would give congressional negotiators more time to finalize the intricate details of the longer-term funding deal announced late Tuesday. That package, called an omnibus, would sustain the federal government through the 2023 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“We have a framework that provides a path forward to enact an omnibus next week,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “Now, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will work around-the-clock to negotiate the details of final 2023 spending bills that can be supported by the House and Senate and receive President Biden’s signature.”
But the legislative process still depends greatly on the cooperation of Democrats and Republicans, particularly in the Senate, where a small few can slow down the chamber. Some GOP lawmakers already have said they would prefer to delay debate until next year, when Republicans assume control of the House, hoping to embolden the party in forcing spending cuts from the White House.
Late Tuesday, the chamber’s GOP leaders even encouraged members to vote against the measure that would buy more time — a move that would put the country on a path to shutdown.
“This one-week continuing resolution is an attempt to buy additional time for a massive lame-duck spending bill in which House Republicans have had no seat at the negotiating table,” read a notice from Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the minority whip.
The last-minute scramble underscores the race against the clock as the legislative year draws to a close. The spending package marks the final must-pass item on Capitol Hill, where partisan divides — and the lingering tensions from the 2022 election — could conspire to create yet another political showdown.
“There’s a lot of work left to do, but we’re optimistic that if we preserve the good faith we’ve seen so far, we will get there,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the chamber floor earlier Tuesday.
Both sides maintain that a shutdown is unlikely. But Republicans for weeks have insisted that they do not want to increase domestic spending, since Biden and his Democratic allies secured major new boosts over the past year. That includes the Inflation Reduction Act, which invested billions to combat climate change while aiming to reduce drug costs for seniors — a bill that GOP lawmakers saw as costly and problematic in its size and scope.
In the process, Republicans also have sought to guarantee the government fully funds the Pentagon, after Congress adopted a bill that authorizes — but doesn’t write the check to actually spend, so to speak — roughly $800 billion for defense. Addressing the Senate this week, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said his party seeks to “fully fund our national defense” — without “lavishing extra funding” on other Democratic priorities.
A day later, McConnell acknowledged at his weekly news conference that Congress was “very close” to a deal that would be “broadly appealing” to lawmakers in both parties. At the same time, though, he said he believed lawmakers should reach an accord “no later than late evening” on Dec. 22, earlier than some expected, adding that his party did not intend to return after the Christmas break.
Announcing the agreement late Tuesday, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the chamber’s appropriations panel, seemed to suggest they could meet that new timeline after reaching what he termed an “agreement in principle.”
“If all goes well, we should be able to finish an omnibus appropriations package by December 23rd,” he said in a statement.
Still, other disagreements abound, including a lingering dispute over Biden’s request for roughly $40 billion in emergency aid that would boost Ukraine against Russia and respond to the newly resurgent coronavirus. Some Republican lawmakers recently have questioned that spending in Ukraine, and many have long opposed any new pandemic funding.
Absent a deal, Democrats and Republicans agree they are set to face tough choices that both sides see as problematic. They might have to pass a one-year agreement that freezes federal spending at its current levels, creating funding gaps that affect even the Pentagon. Entire bills, including a recent, bipartisan effort to boost domestic manufacturing of high-demand computer chips, could receive no funding.
“Passage of a one-year is extraordinarily detrimental and costly to every agency and department of government and the American people,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) at a news conference earlier Tuesday, citing “changes that have occurred” in the economy.
Yet some Republicans have sought a more politically advantageous arrangement, with a short-term funding agreement into January or shortly after. Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — now vying to become speaker — even went so far as to chide McConnell for allowing negotiations to occur.
In recent days, some of the most conservative members of the Republican conference have called for shutting down the government if it improves their negotiating position. Such a move would create havoc for federal services. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, called on Senate Republicans to hold up debate for everything except a short-term funding deal until February or March.